Exit Interviews: Intention vs. Reality

Exit interviews seem like a good idea for businesses. You have an employee who’s leaving your organization, so why not gather information from him or her about what works and what doesn’t?

Many businesses have some form of an exit interview in place, hoping to gather insights that can help guide them moving forward.

While that’s a perfectly understandable intention, the reality around exit interviews is very different. Let’s take a look at a few scenarios in which exit interviews don’t live up to their intentions.

Intention: Employee shares detailed feedback about situations that can be improved.

Reality: Employees who are leaving your company aren’t likely to share honest feedback.

Why? Could be any number of reasons, actually. It’s not uncommon for employees to withhold candid feedback or water down some more serious issues they’ve faced.

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“Companies use exit interviews to try and learn what would have prevented a worker from leaving,” says Max Farrell, CEO & Co-Founder at WorkHound. “They want some honest feedback that will help them make work better for everyone else — a little operational intel. But the reality is, there’s a possibility that employees might want to work at a company again, even as they’re leaving. They don’t want to burn their bridges, so they respond with pleasantries instead of honesty.”

Intention: Employee shares concerns and issues related to other workers.

Reality: While you may get some of this information as an employee leaves your company, the exit interview doesn’t give you a chance to really fix the issue.

If you use an exit interview as a chance to get intel about the employees who remain on your team, you may get some information, but it can fall into two categories: inaccurate and overblown or truthful but too late.

“A business has accepted that a worker is going to leave, so they use the exit interview as a chance to get the ‘scoop’ on other employees and what they’re doing,” Farrell says. “But learning that information after the fact doesn’t allow a business to correct course and try to retain an employee. It really only builds a culture of broken trust and gossip among those who remain with the company.”

Intention: Employee shares competitive details about his or her next employer.

Reality: It’s unlikely that most employees will be willing to share details about their future employer.

Some businesses use exit interviews as a chance to try and obtain information about competitors and other businesses, either in their industry or outside it. They look for details about how competitive they are against other employers in areas such as time off, benefits, and pay.

This is an area where most exiting employees will share little or no information, the exception being if they’re looking for a counteroffer — in which case you probably should have had that conversation prior to the exit interview.

Why Continuous Feedback Is a Better Option

When you’re relying on exit interviews to provide you with information, you’re missing the opportunity to make real-time changes and retain employees, thus preventing the exit altogether.

“Exit interviews largely leave companies looking for honest information amid fluff instead of actually helping them fix their problems,” Farrell says. “Continuous feedback, on the other hand, can prevent a worker from ever getting to the point of leaving. It can prevent the turnover from happening by providing a chance to intervene.”

A tool like WorkHound allows employees to share meaningful and candid insights when they’re actually experiencing an issue. That means that companies have an opportunity to course-correct and improve retention.

“When you work to gather feedback in real-time, you can work to make changes that prevent exit interviews from ever even happening,” Farrell says. “The reality is that in many cases, people are willing to share candid information while they’re still with a company — you just have to give them an outlet to do so.”

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